When the tracers are real
I was going 85 miles per hour on I-40 West when I saw it.
I was tired. It had been a four-day weekend that saw me up until nearly 4am on every night. I’d slept in a tent three of those nights and woke early on each of the mornings. The days were spent playing Euchre on a cooler top, picking a few guitar tunes with good friends, or just laughing. The nights were spent under North Carolina skies, around a campfire, or in front of people like Robert Earl Keen or Donna the Buffalo.
My wife and I already knew we were going to get back on the road sometime within the next 48 hours, but we had no plan of starting that second trip just a few hours after we got home from the first. We barely had the campfire smoke washed from our clothes, though, before we decided to hop back in the car and start driving toward Missouri. We left home just after 6pm and drove with the sun at our backs. My wife fell asleep sometime after we crossed from North Carolina into Tennessee. The bugs were smeared on the windshield. Their guts turned to light tracers in the headlights of the opposing lanes. I probably should not have been driving, and certainly not more than 80 miles per hour.
It was just a bit before midnight when the light burst from the sky. For a fraction of a second, I thought it was an airplane. Then, for another fraction, I thought it another hallucination brought on by fatigue and bug guts. Then, it was so bright and so long, it couldn’t be denied. It forced a quick yelp from my lungs, enough to wake my wife. Her ability to open her eyes, scan the mountain-tracked horizon, and see the same thing was a testament to the light’s impressiveness. The streaking meteor was the first I’d seen in years and without question the brightest and long-lasting I’d ever seen.
I couldn’t say much more than, “Wow.” I shook my head, trying to decide if it had been as impressive as I thought, or whether my addled mind was playing tricks.
“We’re supposed to make a wish,” my wife said, her tired voice momentarily lifted by the falling star. I sat for a moment and looked through the dirty windshield.
It has been an odd year, to be sure. First I was moving to Canada, and then I wasn’t. I traveled to the Bahamas, Langerado, Monte Carlo, Las Vegas, Phoenixville, Black Mountain, and now Missouri. I have Costa Rica, Las Vegas, Florida, Mexico, and maybe Las Vegas again in my sights before the end of the year. All the way, I’ve found myself both inspired by humanity’s occasional perfection and simultaneously in awe of its flaws. I’ve loved and hated, both others and myself. All of it has made me hope against hope and wish on top of wishes. All the way, I’m not sure I did much to help the hope and wishes along.
Tonight, I sit in a very comfortable chair with more than a little traveler’s fatigue in my knotty back. I saw myself in a mirror and noticed my beer belly has re-established itself above my belt. I noticed my hair line has crept back another millimeter. I noticed the wrinkles around my eyes are becoming a little more pronounced and the bags under them are growing weighty. A man with a wish on the most powerful star he’s ever seen fall might just wish for those ugly things to reverse themselves. He might just wish it all away, wish ill toward the people who have stood in his way, or riches on the people who have helped him along. He might just wish for a lot of things that make a lot of sense.
I didn’t because I know some things can’t be fixed and the things that can be helped are things I can handle on my own. I didn’t because we don’t get a lot of wishes in our life, at least not wishes we can count on coming true. Some people might say I have already used up my allowance.
Five years ago at this time, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room. My dad was about to die and I was as lost as I had ever been. I wished then he would live and live long enough to see me have a kid. Despite three very dangerous brain surgeries, Dad did live. A month later, my wife was pregnant. I wished for us luck in parenting, a healthy kid, and knowledge we didn’t really deserve. I got it all. Tonight, my four-year-old son and I ate dinner with my dad, mom, wife, brother, and sister-in-law. To have that moment after the past five years means my wishes have come true.
When my wife mentioned a wish last night, I barely thought before saying, “I just made one.” A few seconds later, she quietly said, “So did I.” We didn’t tell each other what we’d wished. Instead, we fell quiet, looked through the bug-streaked windshield, and let our momentum carry us forward.
That’s the way it goes with life, I guess. If you fight it, you stop. If I learned anything from the bugs last night, it’s that the moment you stop is the moment you can stop looking for wishes in dark skies.